April 1, 2008
State of the Systems, NL West
2008 Rookies: The team has plenty of youth, but no true rookies, so let's use this place to talk about Justin Upton, who is no longer a "prospect" for this exercise's purposes by the margin of 10 at-bats. PECOTA's weighted mean for him is a .271/.349/.471 line with 20 home runs and 18 stolen bases. That makes him an average to slightly-above-average right fielder; at the same time, he's just 20 years old, and that line immediately reminds me of Ken Griffey's first full season, when he hit .300/.366/.481 with 22 bombs and 16 stolen bases. The progression from there could also remain eerily similar.
Minor League Road Trip: Arizona's talent is fairly well spread across the system, but there are plenty of future pitchers almost ready to go at Triple-A Tucson, with starters Juan Gutierrez and Billy Buckner getting relief help from Connor Robertson and Leo Rosales. Former first-round pick Max Scherzer is remaining in a starting role for now, but many see him as Arizona's closer of the future.
Pivotal Season: Outfielder Cyle Hankerd hit eight home runs in 18 California League games in 2006. Last year he did the same, only it took 103 games, leaving him as a corner outfielder without enough bat unless something gets figured out.
I Like Him Better Than Most: After leading the Midwest League in batting last year, outfielder Gerardo Parra just needs to tap into his power potential to achieve elite prospect status.
Don't Believe The Hype: What does Emilio Bonifacio offer other than game-changing speed and good glovework at second? Not a whole heckuva lot. He needs to develop a more patient approach, or he's going to hit towards the bottom of a lineup.
Get Your Bags Ready? The Diamondbacks already made their big deal, trading away many of the good parts of their system to get Dan Haren. However, if they're competitive this year, they might make a minor deal using one of their extra upper-level arms.
Next Year's No. 1 Prospect Odds: Their 2007 first-round pick, Jarrod Parker, is the favorite here, but the usual risks with high-upside teenage arms apply.
Jarrod Parker: 5-3
2008 Rookies: Jayson Nix earned the second base job largely with his glove work, and while his .266/.319/.406 PECOTA is both not terribly impressive and right in line with what the scouting community expects, his estimation of nine fielding runs, while good, might be a little low, as Nix is immediately one of top defensive second basemen in the game. Franklin Morales has been put into the back of the rotation despite an inconsistent spring. Expect more of the same during the season, with the occasional three-inning start tempered by the occasional night of utter brilliance.
Minor League Road Trip: Colorado's Double-A Tulsa squad is loaded with prospects around the diamond, with Brandon Hynick in the rotation, 2007 first-round pick Casey Weathers making his full-season debut with the Drillers as their closer, a middle infield of Chris Nelson at short and Eric Young, Jr. at second, and the ultra-toolsy Dexter Fowler in center field.
Pivotal Season: A first round pick in 2005, Chaz Roe had an up-and-down year at High-A Modesto last year, but finished the season on a roll, and scouts have always liked his body and stuff. Double-A will give us a much better indication of his future.
I Like Him Better Than Most: Shortstop Chris Nelson recovered his prospect status last year by making great strides defensively while also rediscovering his offense, with 19 home runs, 27 stolen bases, and a nifty .289/.358/.503 line at Modesto.
Don't Believe The Hype: Ian Stewart's remarkable Sally League campaign is now four years in his rearview mirror, and last year's .304/.379/.478 line was largely a product of playing at the high-altitude, high-offense environment of Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Get Your Bags Ready? The Rockies have a young staff at the big league level and some extra arms to throw around for minor talent if they need to make a move at the deadline. Nelson is blocked at shortstop, but some feel he'd be a good outfielder, and he'd likely only be available in a major deal.
Next Year's No. 1 Prospect Odds: Morales is on the verge of losing his prospect status, leaving this one pretty open. The 25th overall pick in the draft is unlikely to enter the picture this high.
Chris Nelson: 4-1
2008 Rookies: Injuries have shortstop prospect Chin-Lung Hu beginning his season as the big league team's utilityman, but that will only last until some players come off the disabled list, and he's still lined up to take over the shortstop job in '09. The same goes for Blake DeWitt at third base. Technically a rookie, Japanese import Hideki Kuroda should be an immediate rotation stalwart. Another injury ruined another opportunity for Andy LaRoche, but he should still get plenty of big league at-bats over the course of the season.
Minor League Road Trip: Double-A Jacksonville wins by default, simply for having Clayton Kershaw, but he'll be joined in the rotation by James McDonald and eventually Scott Elbert, whose recovery from shoulder surgery has taken longer than expected. Once things get back to normal at the big league level, DeWitt will arrive to be complete an impressive left side of the infield, joining slick fielder Ivan DeJesus.
Pivotal Season: Elbert will begin the year in extended spring training, and team officials are quietly concerned about his struggles so far. Looking better has been 2006 draftee Bryan Morris, who missed all of 2007 following Tommy John surgery.
I Like Him Better Than Most: As a shortstop who plays nearly flawless defense, has an incredible feel for contact and surprising power, Hu doesn't get enough credit as one of the better shortstop prospects in the game.
Don't Believe The Hype: Despite a fine Opening Day, DeWitt lacks the power and patience to project as an everyday corner infielder in the long run.
Get Your Bags Ready? One gets the feeling that the club is far lower on LaRoche than anyone else, based on their handling of him, and he could bring them a big name talent in return at the deadline. Plenty of teams have had interest in reliever Jonathan Meloan in trade talks as well.
Next Year's No. 1 Prospect Odds: As good as he looked (and he was awfully good), Kershaw will likely be safe for prospect rankings next year. LaRoche and Hu--not so much.
Clayton Kershaw: 4-3
2008 Rookies: Despite a tremendous spring, top prospect Chase Headley has been dispatched to Triple-A in order give the older prospect, Paul McAnulty, the first crack at the left field job. McAnulty's more of a professional hitter type who certainly should be able to hold his own there, but Headley is the one with star potential. Rule 5 pick Callix Crabbe has stuck and won the utility infield job, and it's a great pickup, as Crabbe can play anywhere in the infield, has gap power, and he runs well.
Minor League Road Trip: Beyond Headley, The Portland Beavers will likely have second baseman Matt Antonelli and finesse lefty Wade LeBlanc; all three should play major roles in the big leagues next season.
Pivotal Season: After missing most of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery, right-hander Cesar Carillo's stuff was well off expectations in spring training, and he'll need a strong rebound season to recover his stock from when he was a first-round pick in 2005.
I Like Him Better Than Most: An '07 draftee, Drew Cumberland offers tons of athleticism along with a mature approach, a rare combination these days that allows him to project as a middle infielder who hits at the top of the order.
Don't Believe The Hype: After an incredible pro debut in 2006, Cedric Hunter proved in his first full season that he wasn't a very good center fielder, doesn't have much power, and swings at a lot of bad pitches. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
Get Your Bags Ready? If anything, it's more likely that San Diego will be trading big league talent to make room for Antonelli and Headley--both cheaper and better options in the long run.
Next Year's No. 1 Prospect Odds: There's some confusion here. Headley is far more likely to get 130 at-bats this season than Antonelli, and the big body and big arm of Matt Latos looms large.
2008 Rookies: With Omar Vizqual still recovering from knee surgery, Brian Bocock takes over at shortstop. PECOTA thinks he can hit .221/.276/.313--and that's probably a little optimistic. Really, he's being forced to play where he shouldn't, and he's clearly not the Giants' first choice here. At least he'll make good cash for a little bit. As a guy who can play all over the field and run extremely well, the Giants hope they've found a Chone Figgins type with Eugenio Velez. He's not that good, but he's certainly a good utility player at the very least. Dan Ortmeier opens the year as a bench bat, which might not be the best thing for his development, while Nate Schierholtz will likely get the call at some point in the season.
Minor League Road Trip: While the team's brass has decided that 2007 first-round pick Tim Alderson is ready for High-A, and fellow first-rounder Wendell Fairly isn't ready for a full-season, the Low-A squad at Augusta will still be well-stocked with their top pick, lefty Madison Bumgarner, leading the rotation, and a highly impressive infield that includes teenage slugging sensation Angel Villalona at first base and an up-the-middle combination of 2007 draftees--and highly rated prospects--Nick Noonan and Charlie Culberson.
Pivotal Season: Despite a .333/.365/.560 line at Triple-A last year and a .300+ average in the big leagues, Schierholtz is still pegged by many as a classic Quadruple-A hitter; he can't afford a step backwards.
I Like Him Better Than Most: While he's not quite a catcher yet and needs to tone down his free-swinging ways, Pablo Sandoval is a switch=hitter with power from both sides, making him a very interesting sleeper.
Don't Believe The Hype: As a big left-hander with plus-plus velocity, Bumgarner is a special talent, but his lack of a secondary pitch and a low three-quarters arm slot turns off many a scout.
Get Your Bags Ready? If the Giants can find any takers for their veterans, they might add to a system that is especially weak at the upper levels. It's not like they're going to compete or anything.
Next Year's No. 1 Prospect Odds: With the fifth overall pick in the draft, the Giants should add an excellent player to the system, giving Villalona something of a run for his money.
Angel Villalona: 2-1